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Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Legacy of Colonialism



It’s been a busy news week for British colonialism, or more accurately, the violent legacy of British colonialism. A rash of ongoing or renewed conflicts across the globe speaks of the detriment that the once-powerful British bequeathed and for which people of today have to contend with through injustice and in some cases immense human suffering.
In Northern Ireland, Belfast city has seen resurgent riots between pro-British Protestant youths and Irish nationalist Catholics, with extensive injuries, property damage and a painful reminder of sectarian bloodletting in recent years.
Over in the South Atlantic, Argentines and their government are up in arms over the London government’s proposal to hold a referendum on the future status of the Malvinas Islands, the British colony off Argentina otherwise known as the Falklands.
In the Middle East, Israel has committed yet more crimes against the besieged Palestinian people when fighter jets bombed the coastal Gaza strip, adding to the daily abject misery and terror of inhabitants.
Elsewhere in the Middle East, the people of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia continue their street agitations for democratic freedom from despotic monarchial rulers. In Bahrain, the calls for democracy were given added impetus when a court upheld the sentences against 20 political leaders, some of whom have been imprisoned for life.
Further East on the atlas, in the military junta of Myanmar, formerly known as British Burma, the persecution of thousands of Rohingya Muslims continues unabated, with hundreds killed at the hands of Buddhist gangs after being burned out of their shanty homes.
In each of these seemingly disparate conflicts, the seeds of violence were sown by one system – British colonialism and its malevolent engineering of sectarianism. It is an indictment of British rulers that decades on, and sometimes centuries on, people’s lives are still being blighted by the legacy of Britain’s predatory, criminal history.
In Northern Ireland, a peace settlement was reached after nearly 30 years of an anti-imperialist war between the guerrilla Irish Republican Army and the British forces. More than 3,000 people were killed during that conflict, which British government counter-insurgency policy succeeded in distorting into a sectarian bloodbath between pro-British Protestant loyalists and the mainly Catholic Irish nationalist population. The origins of that conflict lay in the gerrymandering of Ireland by the British colonial rulers when they partitioned the island in 1920-21 – against international and democratic norms – into a pro-British northern statelet and a nominally independent southern state.
The British colonial rulers inculcated a supremacist mindset among the Protestant community in the new Northern Ireland, copperfastening the privileged misrule with political, economic and social discrimination against Catholics. Many Protestant working-class communities were in truth not much better off materially than their Catholic counterparts, but nevertheless British sectarian policy implanted deep seeds of hatred and distrust as a means of dividing and ruling.
The latest outbreak of rioting in Belfast was sparked when Catholics tried to hold a peaceful commemorative march at the weekend. Sections within the Protestant community could not tolerate such a demonstration, even though the 1998 peace accord supposedly guarantees religious and cultural equality in Northern Ireland. The mindset of sectarian hatred inherited from British colonial subjugation of Irish national rights is still a live issue. Politicians in London may tut-tut at the street mayhem in Belfast, but this is a manifestation of Britain’s illegitimate meddling in Ireland.
British involvement in Ireland accrues from a self-styled mandate that stems from the historical implantation of a pro-British citizenry. The same gerrymandering to thwart natural territorial rights can be seen in the ongoing dispute over the Malvinas Islands, which were forcibly dispossessed from Argentina by Britain in 1833 and renamed the Falklands Islands. The two countries went to war briefly in 1982 after Argentinian troops occupied the territory. Argentina has substantial territorial claims to the islands off its coast, however Britain maintains that it has legal right to possession because the islanders, who descend from British colonizers, insist that they want to retain British status. This is classic British subjective gerrymandering to “get the right result”.
The British government continues to rankle Buenos Aires because it refuses to comply with United Nations resolutions to enter into a negotiated settlement. The latest move by British Prime Minister David Cameron to hold a referendum in the Malvinas on the future of the islands has been denounced by Argentina as a further British obstacle to resolving the dispute. Given the huge oil and fishing resources around the territory, and the recent militarization of the area by the British, the risk of a resumption of war cannot be discounted.